By Rick Riozza
Well—right at the last possible moment, when we were picking out our summer wear from our quiet closets, we almost got dressed up; but again, with nowhere to go.
Just days ago, the world famous—papa daddy food & wine extravaganza, the Aspen Classic Food and Wine Festival, issued the statement that “out of concern for the safety of our community and the world beyond, they were canceling this year’s classic annual Aspen event that was schedule to play out during the 2020 Father’s Day weekend.
And, as you can tell, they waited until the last hour to make the right decision in these times of COVID-19. Most of us wine enthusiasts and foodies who were watching the signs of the times and hoping for easy miracles, agree, it’s still too early to risk our health for wine & food games.
We Coachella folks have already witnessed these abrupt cancellations, as with our beloved BNP Paribas/Indian Wells tennis tournament and the Palm Desert Food & Wine fest. We understood the action, but it still kind of took us off guard: Just like that, the disease can take down lives and in lesser things, take down big established sporting and social events.
The Classic Aspen event first began as an international wine festival back in 1983. It gained popularity quickly with the wine world because, indeed, wine making and wine consumption were fast becoming the game of the rich and famous and pulling us lesser souls along for the ride—in a very good way! Taking place in the beautiful surrounds of Aspen and Snowmass—where in the wintertime, it was the destination for the European jet set skiers. And in the summertime, simply a gorgeous venue for the enjoyment of world class wine.
As opposed to these days, (previous to the quarantine times), where we could find a wine and food event on every weekend in the year; not so back in the early 80s. One could see how enlightening it was to wonder, and, experience “la dolce vita di far niente”—the good life of doing nothing but enjoying and talking about wine.
In 1987, it became a food and wine fest where its program is expanded to include food exhibitors, food authorities as speakers and cooking demonstrations by master chefs, in addition to wine tastings and seminars. With more than 1,000 people attending the Classic, it became an immediate international destination for famous wine makers, celebrity chefs, and gastronomes.
Unfortunately—a bit of notoriety attached itself to the event: Because it was the destination for the rich & beautiful, and that it had to do with experiencing world class wines that most vino lovers may never get to taste (back then), it gathered some speed of snobbery. Stuff like that happens—and it did happen. But those times are over. The event is for the masses—if you can afford it at $1600 a ticket for the 3-day affair, excluding lodging and winemaker dinners.
(By the way: Are there still some wine snobs in your wine circles? Can you imagine that sensibility still! Maybe one can tolerate them if we assume them as comics? I’ll admit it though; if I am in their company for any appreciable amount of time—it’s because they’re sharing some fantastic wine they’ve been hoarding!)
Anyway—with all the many food & wine festivals all about, the Aspen Classic still rates at the top with the world’s most accomplished winemakers, celebrity chefs and culinary luminaries coming together in three event-filled days in one breathtaking and unique setting beneath Aspen Mountain and kicking off Aspen’s summer season.
Back in 1990, I was able to convince a couple of my wine friends to bite the bullet and afford the very pricey ticket to the event. And the costs just started from there: we flew in a large jet from L.A. to Denver; then we took a smaller plane to Boulder; then we took even a smaller plane to Aspen, flying fast into a beautiful crevice of an airport i.e., scary.
Gorgeous lodging was at a premium; and making it to any of the scheduled de rigueur wine maker dinners—featuring the evening’s wine & wine maker and the talents of the various famed restaurant’s Executive Chefs, was all the rage in the resort city of Aspen.
At the 1990 Aspen Classic event—the largest attendance to date, Julia Child was the featured speaker. And she was all over the place! First she was doing a food demonstration in the beautiful outdoors; and her voice, echoed throughout the sound system used at that time and brought to light her most interesting but beloved tone and accent that I’m sure you foodies have caught on her early food shows; a voice full of interest, precise articulation, and a tone of aristocracy and frivolity.
Right after completing her demonstration, I rushed up to her—a very tall lady—and asked if she would pose with me for a photograph. She happily obliged; I requested however that she act as if she were the student and that I was showing her how to cook! She gave a rousing laugh—in her inimitable voice, and posed with her hands to her face along with a look of awe! Too cool!
Later that day, while I was attending a tasting of Vintage Port at the Brown Palace Hotel, one of the wine masters couldn’t get to the demonstration on time so—lo and behold—enter Julia Child to take over and discuss her knowledge and attitude on the state of the Port wine business. By this time, I felt Julia and I were old friends; maybe she felt that too, as she quietly shared with me some 100-year-old Port from her private stash. Cheers to fun memories!
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